A grocer who strangled his wife to death screamed in pretend shock when he “found” her body.
Muhammad Ilyas, 41, killed Maria Chavez, 32, at their home in Ilford, east London, then staged an elaborate cover-up.
He went out to meet relatives to set up an alibi and give an imagined ‘killer’ a chance to come into the house and murder his wife.
Ilyas made calls to his wife’s mobile after he had murdered her and then pretended to find her body on the first floor landing when he returned to the house and burst into hysterical tears.
But a teenage witness at the scene was convinced it was all an act and her evidence helped an Old Bailey jury convict Ilyas of murder.
Ilyas showed no emotion as he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years.
Judge Nigel Lickley, QC, told him: “You killed Maria by compressing her neck forcefully with a ligature.
“Why you did that has not been explained by you. You did not give evidence at your trial and your case was that a stranger entered your home that afternoon and killed your wife. That evidence was rejected by the jury.”
Referring to Ms Chavez’s family, the judge added: “They will suffer the loss of Maria for the rest of their lives. Milestones in their lives will pass and the sharing of important events will lack Maria’s presence, support and love.
To Ilyas, judge Lickley said: “You betrayed her.
“And for some reason only you know you took her life. You murdered a good and kind person.
“Whatever the reason, and there was one, something caused you to react in a very violent and disturbing way. You were able in a very shot time, having killed Maria, to compose yourself.
“Why you killed Maria is not known. Only you know.
“Having made a decision to kill her you first hit her in the mouth causing injury and then you strangled her, I find, with an item of clothing or a towel. For a time Maria would have resisted.
“You have offered no explanation today or offered no regret or remorse. You made no effort to save her. You left her where you killed her.”
Ms Chavez’s sister Maria Antonia made a tearful impact statement about the loss she suffered through a Spanish interpreter.
She said: “To me, Maria was like a mum, a friend, sister.
“She was always there in the best and worst times of my life. I do not have any more family to support me.
“I no longer have anyone with whom I can share my joys and fears with. I had made a life for myself in Spain. I had dreams of making a family with children of my own.
“Although I have family, it is not complete…[because of] the void that Maria has left.”
Prosecutor Julian Evans, QC, had earlier told the jury how Ilyas, who sold fruit and veg wholesale, murdered his wife between 1pm and 4pm in their home in Ilford on May 13, last year.
Ilyas left the house at 4.30pm then returned some two hours later and went upstairs.
“The defendant then screamed out,” said Mr Evans.
“Ms Chavez was lying on the floor face up, her face was purple in colour. The defendant moved her body to the nearby bedroom.
“The defendant telephoned a neighbour who in turn called the emergency services.”
Jurors heard paramedics arrived shortly before 7pm and pronounced Ms Chavez dead two minutes later.
“Initially, police treated Maria’s death as non-suspicious,” Mr Evans said.
Ilyas then gave a statement to the police.
“He was to say that he had called his wife after he had left…but she, his wife, was not answering,” said the prosecutor.
“CCTV shows this is not true. Evidence shows he called her before he left the address while the two of them were still inside the house.”
“Ilyas spoke about his wife’s health in his statement,” said Mr Evans.
“He said she suffered from breathing issues for years.”
The first pathologist had halted his post-mortem examination after finding clear evidence Ms Chavez had been asphyxiated. A consultant forensic pathologist then found the cause of death to be “compression of the neck”.
Police arrested Ilyas on suspicion of murder on 26 May but he said he had no knowledge of who was reponsible for his wife’s death.
The 16-year-old girl who was in the house said Ilyas was screaming and sobbing but she did not believe his tears were real.
“He was not crying like he was really, really worried,” she said in a video taped interview with police.
“He was crying, like fake.”
She said she was downstairs he the house when she heard Ilyas shouting.
“He was screaming. He said bring some water,” the girl recalled.
She went upstairs with the water and saw Mrs Chavez lying on the floor on the landing.
“Her face was purple. He took the glass of water and he was trying to put it in the mouth and in the nose,” she said.
During the trial, Ilyas’s barrister Christopher Donnellan, QC, admitted: “He has not got a solution beyond, ‘It was not me. I didn’t do it’.”
Mr Donnellan suggested someone else, an unidentified individual, killed Ms Chaves.
He also told the court Ilyas was a man of previous good character.
‘”These cases are inevitably full of emotion. In the sense that they are like a stone in a pond, the ripple effect is so wide…that is why the life sentence is imposed.”
Ilyas, of Ilford, denied the charges against him but was convicted of murder.